This is the title of a tremendously inspiring documentary I watched with a friend the other night. It’s the story of Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 released “the Pentagon papers” & changed the course of American, & world, history.
Ellsberg was a U.S. government insider in the Defense Dept. & the Rand Corporation, who during the 60's helped fuel the flames of the Vietnam War. After being on the ground in Vietnam & seeing with his own eyes both how the lies of U.S. President Nixon were bearing evil fruit in destruction, tragedy & death for the people of Vietnam (2 million of whom were killed) & the American soldiers who fought there, Ellsberg began to deeply regret his own part in perpetuating it, & to actively oppose it.
The Rand Corporation had been ordered to conduct a massive study of the War by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (this unbeknownst to his boss, President Nixon) in which the truth of the war was laid bare. President after president had carried out a huge conspiracy of secrecy & lies, & the war kept being escalated basically as a face-saving exercise for the U.S. government. The revelations in this Rand Corporation study are what later became known as the Pentagon Papers.
The Ellsberg story is one of conscience, courage, conviction
Action & atonement
Did I already mention courage??
Ellsberg gave up his career & risked life imprisonment for his principled decision to leak the Pentagon Papers to the U.S. media. At one point, he was threatened with a sentence of up to 115 years for the various charges levelled against him for releasing the Pentagon Papers to the press.
Along the way, circumstances, people & conversations had made him realize that he was prepared to go to jail in order to stop the immoral Vietnam War.
As he says at one point in the documentary, “It wasn’t that we were on the wrong side. We were the wrong side.”
Ellsberg’s personal courage inspired courage in others. As it turned out, his ccourt case was ultimately dismissed due to government misconduct & illegal evidence-gathering.
Soon, the Watergate scandal brought Nixon down. Funding to continue the war was finally stopped, & Nixon resigned under the threat of impeachment.
Apparently, the Pentagon Papers court case over the rights of the press to publicize materials the government does not want published is cited daily in current 1st Amendment court cases.
What Daniel Ellsberg chose to do – as an individual acting out of his conscience – is huge, & bore huge consequences.
I don’t know about you, but I find I need to be inspired over & over again. I get mighty discouraged at times, & lately has been one of them. I won’t bore you with a sad song & dance about how the current state of the environmental crisis & the utter corruption of our government makes me despair at times. (I live in Canada, but governments everywhere tend to be corrupt. Not that I am minimizing how corrupt Canada’s federal government is; it sickens me utterly.)
With nuclear threats, tar sands rape & pillage & pipeline building & potential leakage & accidents, the sickness of fracking & sundry other frightful & literally sickening issues grabbing my attention constantly, I’ve been finding my spirits a little low of late.
This documentary – & the life & example of Daniel Ellsberg (who by the way has spent his adult life opposing war, working for social justice, & occasionally being arrested to back up his convictions) came for me at just the right time.
It’s Easter weekend, & while I am not a religious (or even “spiritual”) person, I do pay attention to this annual reminder of re-birth & resurrection – the ever-renewable nature of the cycle of life to burst forth, flower abundantly, die back, lay dormant, then spring forth once more.
I personally view resurrection as the potential each new day brings us.
I was overdue to have my spirits resurrected, & this film is helping!
Ellsberg reminds us we all have our own consciences to heed, our own personal actions to take.
He reminds us that what we each do does matter very much, & that each of us can inspire others with our own choice to act out our convictions.
That we can each do as Daniel Ellsberg has done, & always choose “the highest right” action – regardless of the consequences. Like him, we can choose to put a priority on conscience, rather than on career.
That if we associate ourselves with people like those in the U.S. government who never asked “Is this the right thing to do?” it is time for us to resurrect our own conscience & convictions.
& finally, that there is never any replacement for the power of making things personal. This means exposing ourselves to the people who are bearing the consequences of our possibly rather heedless decisions. It seems to be something that those in power are quite practiced at not doing. It’s at least one key element of the constellation of circumstances that set Daniel Ellsberg on his world-changing mission.
We seem to need endless reminders that individuals have enormous potential to change the world.
Thank you, Daniel Ellsberg!! So glad I watched this documentary, learned your story, & can now add another hero to my list of people to admire for outstanding, stellar examples of courage in action!
p.p.s. Ellsberg published an absolutely fascinating article for Hiroshima Day 2009 entitled ‘America has been asleep at the wheel for 64 years.’ It discusses (among other things) how Ellsberg intially lost his faith in the infallibility of authority figures, & how he & his father wound up making huge revelations to one another almost by "fluke," in conversation, many years after critical life events & historical world events had taken place. Also, how his father was inspired by the young Daniel's reaction to nuclear war after having read John Hersey's book Hiroshima shortly after its publication. It's a very moving and thought-provoking article.
p.p.p.s. it is possible you may enjoy the posting 'Quote of the Year 2010' - the quote is a true stunner, & there is at least one amazing article link you'd likely find of interest.
‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “The courage we need is not the courage, the fortitude to be obedient in the service of an unjust war, to help conceal lies, to do our job by a boss who has usurped power & is acting as an outlaw government. It is the courage at last to face honestly the truth & reality of what we are doing in the world, & act responsibly to change it.” – Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower, in the documentary ‘The Most Dangerous Man in America.”
Runner-up for Q. of the Day: "No matter how far you've gone down a wrong road, TURN BACK!" - source unknown